I don’t think our school district fully grasps the whole paperless concept. I’m staring at a stack of forms they’ve called “children’s homework” that I must complete. Somehow, the paperwork required to send our children to public school each year feels like we’re assembling an entire dossier. There’s even a fingerprinting form somewhere in this pile, and I can’t volunteer to lead a single game of 7-up until it’s complete (don’t even think about birthday cupcakes).
I know it’s all important; of course, it is. But, as our daughter starts 1st grade at a new school this year, there are other things taking priority in the limited space I have in my head, trumping volunteer sign-ups and shopping for Dixon Ticonderoga pencils.
Our daughter joined our family via adoption. She is fully ours, but I’m also fully aware that her history is an ongoing experience for her and us. As her mother, it’s my job to navigate that along with her as best as I know how in each season of her life. As she and we have anticipated her first year of elementary school, we’ve wrestled with a few issues.
How much and what to share.
With a child who is the same skin shade as you, you have the option of sharing nothing at all adoption related with teachers. There are plenty of blonde mamas with brunette children thanks to genetics and Clairol. But, when your child is clearly of a different race, you have a choice to make. How much do you want to share about your child’s adoption? How much should you share about her adoption? We’ve come up with our own answers, for now at least. But, every family’s answers to those questions are going to be a little different. While we arrived at little disclosure, other parents may feel like more is needed for their child to be set up for success in the classroom.
Regardless of where each of us arrives in the end, the key is this: it’s better to ask ourselves these questions before we go to back to school night or to our first teacher conference. If we ask ourselves these questions ahead of time, we can enter these situations with intention and be less likely to stumble into a conversation and say things off the cuff that we regret later.
Answering the questions of what we want to share and what we should share is not an easy task because not only are we motivated to do right by our child but our hearts can be muddied with other motivations that aren’t so pretty. Maybe sharing about our child’s adoption history makes us feel like the teacher will think we’re “good parents” because we know something about trauma or attachment. It could be that we kind of like the pat on the back it gives us to know something about trauma and attachment that we believe that teacher doesn’t know. When I feel like I’m failing in a lot of areas, a pat on the back sounds pretty good. And, if we find ourselves in a spirit of parenting defeat, our efforts to protect our child by making sure his teacher knows all the hard stuff may make us feel like we’re at least doing something right for him.
Maybe we are worried that our child’s failure to comply in the classroom will reflect poorly on us, so sharing about his adoption will get us off the hook a bit (i.e., “it’s not because of our parenting that he does these things.”). Any of that resonate with you? I’ve been there, maybe all over there before. Hey, our hearts aren’t pretty places. There’s always layers of stuff going on in there, layers that keep us humble when we get glimpses of them. And, it’s not easy to get those glimpses. But, when we do, we can better understand ourselves and then separate our own “stuff” from what is true and matters when it comes to these kinds of decisions for our kids.
It’s not easy to figure out what to share and how to share it. As much as we wish a very specific manual existed for that, it doesn’t. But, if there were a manual, I think it might simply say this: be intentional. Being proactive with wrestling through this before you’re presented with the open door to share and being proactive with considering the fullness of your motivation in sharing makes all the difference.
It’s not you against them.
So far in our school careers with four kids, we’ve had a combined total of 19 teachers. This year will raise that number to 23, not counting the myriad of middle school teachers working with my kiddos who now change classrooms for every class. Of those teachers, we’ve only had one who didn’t seem to so much love children. Teachers who aren’t all for kids do exist, but they are few and far between. Yet, it’s so tempting for us as parents to start off the school year with an us–them mentality as if our child’s new teacher has no awareness of family differences and/or no sensitivity to whatever awareness may be there and that he or she inevitably will injure our child with a family tree assignment or something worse.
As you start off this school year, give your teacher the benefit of the doubt. He or she may say something or give assignments at some point that you or your child feel are insensitive; if that happens, make a phone call and have a conversation. But, fight the urge to start off the year on the defense and assume that your child’s teacher doesn’t have a clue.
You don’t need to be all rah-rah adoption.
A recent article posted on Adoptive Families advocated: “Raising adoption awareness at school helps create the open, accepting environment that lets our children flourish” and that a few great ways to create that ideal environment are to “read an adoption storybook to the class during story time,” “give an adoption presentation in the first or second grade,” or “suggest a community service project around National Adoption Day.” If you haven’t been given the volunteer sign-up form already, you will be. Before you write your name on that form, take these words to heart: You do not have to be the poster family for adoption. It is not your job to create whatever you may be picturing as an ideal adoption-friendly environment in the classroom. Put A Mother for Choco and all the other kids’ books you’ve collected over the years back on the shelf for now and simply follow your child’s readiness and lead.
Ask your child. If he wants you to come in and read a book about China, great. If she loves the idea of you helping with a Chinese New Year party, run with it. If not, don’t. Our children are singled out enough; don’t put being an adoption cheerleader above your child’s desire to sometimes just be who he is without extra attention focused on what makes him “special.”
If you haven’t figured it out already, we’re going to screw up…like over and over again. Entering the season of school gives us even more opportunities as parents to make mistakes. But, you know what? It’s okay. We can do this; I know we can. Leading up to that first day and all through that rough transition of starting out, verbalize to your kiddo that you’re for him, that some kids may feel scared about a new school year but excited at the same time and that you as his mommy or daddy kinda feel the same way. You are scared because you can’t go with her into that classroom everyday, and you wish you could because you love her so much and want to make sure she’s always okay. But, you are also excited because you know that she’s going to learn a lot this year and grow and do great things. Then, take a few deep breaths and write those words down somewhere so you can read them over and over to yourself after you wave goodbye each morning.
Your child’s teacher can do this. They want to do this. Your child can do this even if they do life outside the box. They will be okay. You can do this. It might be hard and you’ll likely mess up a few times, but you can do hard and you’ll learn stuff too and won’t keep messing up in the same ways. Be intentional, and invite others to share their own journey along the way to enlighten you in yours. You’ve got this.
Now, go finish your homework.
– image by Tish Goff